Transnistria: Europe's other Crimea
Pro-Russian region carved out of Moldova could be an example of where parts of
Ukraine are headed as tensions mount.
Andrew Connelly Last updated: 14 Mar 2014 22:05
|Tiraspol - As the political crisis in Crimea deepens amid the prospect of the region joining Russia after the looming referendum, it is easy to overlook another post-Soviet republic's gestures to the West and the potential flashpoint coming from its own restive Russophile region.
Compared to Ukraine, Moldova got away lightly following its departure from Moscow's patronage. When deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign the EU Association Agreement in November 2013, deadly riots erupted on the streets of Kiev. Reacting to the newly installed pro-European government in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent the Russian army to annex Crimea. Moldova, however, did not see Russian troops enter
its territory; they had been already there for over 20 years.
Despite attempts to attract some of their former satellite states like Belarus and Kazakhstan into an "Eurasian Union", Moldova, whose economy depends heavily on agriculture and remittances from expatriates, paved the way for strengthened ties with Brussels. Russia duly suspended Moldovan wine imports (allegedly on grounds of poor quality), and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin warned officials: "I hope you won't freeze," darkly implying that the country's dependence on Russian gas may be in jeopardy.
Such a bold move by Moldova's governing Pro-European coalition may be seen as progress
for the tiny nation of 3.5 million, wedged between Romania and Ukraine, which in 2001 became famous for being the first post-Soviet state to re-elect a Communist government. Moldova, however, faces a simmering territorial dispute which accentuated following Crimea's planned succession from Ukraine.
Only 60km east of Moldova's capital Chisinau and reachable by a bumpy ride in a marshrutka (shared taxi) accompanied by blaring Russian pop music, the haphazard border controls emblazoned with the red and green stripes of the Transnistrian flag come into view. The only place in Europe where grimacing guards in camouflage uniform wear badges with the hammer and sickle insignia of the Soviet Union.
Transnistria has its own currency, passports and number plates which aren't recognised by the vast majority of the world's countries. Moldova considers Transnistria to be occupied territory, a gangster state cultivated by Russia which poses a risk to their national security.
Nadya stands proudly in front of rows of gleaming bottles of Transnistrian cognac, highly regarded around the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and beyond. Brewed by the gargantuan Kvint factory in Tiraspol since 1897, it is a sizeable source of employment and a singular antidote to critics who decry the region as merely a nexus for contraband. Though hailing from an unrecognised state, it is widely exported around Europe and the combination of its potency and price (a litre bought locally costs around $5) arouses cheerful spirits, though Nadya is less than merry when speaking of deeper links with the West. When asked whether she can think of any benefits that the EU may bring, the answer is an emphatic "nyet".